Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Farmer’s Market Fried Noodles

Blame it on the eggplant. I have a weakness for eggplant, their plump roundness and glossy purple skin just seems to call out to me as I’m threading my way through the farmers’ market crowd, jostling for some late summer corn and dodging strollers.  So before I could really decide what the hell I was going to do with them, I found myself tucking some fleshy, cucumber-shaped Japanese eggplants into my oversized pleather purse.

I’ve also been on a tear with making fried noodles. Rice noodles in particular…although I’m getting ready to move on to clear glass noodles. The more noodles I make, the more I realize the variations are endless – you can pretty much put anything into a fried noodle dish, the same way you might throw anything into a batch of fried rice. With the farmers’ markets in late summer and tons of produce available, this is a great opportunity to experiment and fry up some noodles with your favorite summer ingredients.

For the most part, the key is to stir-fry the different vegetables separately, until their almost done, and then bring all the ingredients together (soaked noodles, sauce, almost-cooked vegetables, protein)  in a final stir-fry.  And that’s it really. I used eggplant here, which was so delicious, but some other ingredients you can use are shredded cabbage, julienned carrots, leafy vegetables like Chinese broccoli or chard, sweet peppers,  green beans, pea pods, tomato wedges, -- basically anything you can stir-fry.

The end result – a one-dish meal featuring fresh summer produce and deliciously fried noodles. Try not to inhale the whole platter of noodles at once. Like my boyfriend did. I was hoping for some leftovers for the next day, but not a chance. Oh well, guess that means I’ll just have to make more fried noodles next weekend!

Here’s my basic recipe. There are many variations of sauces you can make, but for my eggplant fried noodles, I went with a sweet-salty-garlicky-spicy mixture based on fish sauce – reminiscent of Pad Kimao.

 6-8 oz dried ½-inch-wide flat rice noodles (1/2 packet)
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp brown sugar (reduce if you don’t like things too sweet)

4 to 8oz ground chicken/pork
20 basil leaves, shredded
3 Japanese eggplants – quartered lengthwise and cut into 2-inch sticks
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 hot chili peppers (jalapeno, Serrano, thai chili), minced 
reduce/add chilies to suit your heat level
2 tbsp oil
1-2 eggs (optional)

1. Let the noodles soak and the chicken marinate while you prep the other ingredients. 
Soak the dried noodles in lots of hot water. Mix the fish sauce, soy sauce and brown sugar together. Take a couple teaspoons of the sauce mixture and marinate the ground chicken, using your fingers to work the sauce through. Save the rest of the sauce.

2. Stir-fry the eggplant (or whatever vegetables you have) 
Lightly salt the eggplant (optional). Heat the oil on high heat in a large, seasoned wok. When the oil is hot, slide in half of the eggplant and stir fry for about 5 minutes until they are tender and almost cooked through. Remove the cooked eggplant to a plate, and cook the rest of the eggplant. Put all the eggplant to the side.

3. Stir-fry it altogether.
Drain the noodles. Get all the ingredients nearby. With the fire hot, add more oil to the wok, if needed, so there’s about 1 tbsp of oil in the wok. Once the oil is hot, add the minced garlic and chilies and allow to cook for about 20 seconds. Add ground chicken, breaking it up as it cooks. Once chicken is no longer pink, add in the shredded basil leaves, sauce mixture, drained noodles, and cooked eggplant. Stir and mix to evenly distribute ingredients.

4. Scramble an egg into the noodles (optional)
Push the mass of noodles to one side of the wok. Break the eggs into the empty space on the wok. Let it cook for about 20 seconds and then scramble the eggs with the spatula to get little lumps of eggs. Once the eggs are no longer runny, stir the eggs into to the overall noodle mixture.  

5. Final touches
Taste the noodles. Adjust seasonings as needed. If the noodles are a little undercooked (too chewy), pour ½ cup of water around the sides of the wok, turn the heat up and let the noodles steam a bit. Dish out. Garnish with basil leaves.